By Sushil Kutty
You think you know the man – his cold efficiency and his investigative mind, a one-time no-nonsense top-cop of a metropolis of hard-cases and white collar criminals with a yen for a dollar and a date. Then suddenly, when he is off-guard, or rather when you are off-guard, the man flips and leaves you stunned with the classic “Since the man is seen on Earth he has always been a man” quote!
What was that all about? Former Mumbai top-cop and now junior HRD minister Dr Satyapal Singh, without warning or hint, surprised everybody last week by claiming that naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was scientifically wrong and should be booted out of school and college curriculums.
“No ancestor of man – Nana or Nani – had seen ape turn to man,” Dr Singh told a meeting of Vaidiks in Aurangabad. “Darwin was scientifically wrong, his theory of evolution should be taken out of school and college curriculum.”
The Vaidiks did not question the JHRDM. They knew where he was coming from, their bailiwick! Modi’s HRD ministers, whoever they were in their other lives, do have a tendency to go off the bend with their weird theories on this and that, harking back to Vedic times, pronouncements worthy of hanging the hat on. And Dr Satyapal Singh, if he was saying that Darwin was a fraud, who were the Vaidiks to take him to court!
But there were other folks at the meeting, notably skeptical journalists, who picked up the quote, ran with it and wore it down. Dr Satyapal Singh became the headline and his quote one of the more quotable quotes of the day.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh read of Darwin and Satyapal and promptly shot off a tweet which spoke of BJP leaders and their stock of the ‘obscurant’.
Well, Dr Satyapal Singh heard of Ramesh and his tweet. “I know 10 to 15 international scientists who agree with me, I got a list of their names,” he told a group of students in Assam. “My ministry is prepared to hold an international seminar where these scientists can come and tell us where they stand on this issue.”
By then Dr Singh and his conviction in the notion that Darwin’s theory was wrong had caught the imagination of scientific circles. Over 2000 scientists signed a petition calling Singh’s Darwin-comments “simplistic, misleading and lacking in scientific basis”.
“It is factually incorrect to state that the evolutionary principle has been rejected by the scientific community,” the petition said. “On the contrary, every new discovery adds support to Darwin’s insights. There is plentiful and undeniable evidence to the fact that humans and the other great apes and monkeys had a common ancestor.”
That set the cat among the pigeons and Dr Satyapal Singh doubled down on his assertion. “I’m a Man of Science,” he told any Doubting Thomas. “I’ve a Masters in Chemistry from Delhi University.”
Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution nearly 160 years ago. The naturalist argued that all species including humans evolved through a process of natural selection and that humans and apes shared a common ancestor who lived more than 7 million years ago. The theory was often misunderstood with some people thinking that modern apes turned into human beings.
Dr Satyapal Singh appears to be one of those misunderstood souls. But then he cannot be blamed for mixing obscurantism with Science in the time of Narendra Modi. Religious nationalist figures have been pushing what is called “ideological science” ever since May 26, 2014, with Modi himself claiming that plastic surgery and genetic science originated in ancient India.
On Tuesday, when PM Modi was on a roll at the World Economic Forum in Davos, junior HRD minister Dr Singh was pulled up by senior HRD minister Prakash Javadekar and told to keep his yap shut on such issues. Javadekar also set the record straight on Darwin, saying that the Modi government had no plans to hold a seminar to prove Darwin’s theory “wrong”, that there were no moves to dilute Science in school and college curriculums.
That said, for as long as Darwin’s theory stands scrutiny and survives, Dr Satyapal Singh’s classic quote “Since the man is seen on Earth he has always been a man” will be quoted as the best piece of foiled attack on Darwin and his theory. It will remind people of Superman – who flew in from Outer Space, a full grown man with no ape in his pedigree – and Tarzan of the Apes, brought up by a she-ape but the son of an English Lord! And we can be sure that the junior HRD minister would not ever believe that we all live on the Planet of the Apes! (IPA Service)